Let’s face it: this is going to a dismal holiday season for film lovers, with most movie theaters shuttered for the foreseeable future and just one major release—Wonder Woman 1984—left standing after studios shifted all their blockbusters to next year. And even Wonder Woman 1984 is likely to end up getting bumped to next year from its currently planned Christmas Day release date unless we can get this raging pandemic in check quickly.
On the bright side, streaming platforms and VOD are doing their best to fill in the gap, and the dearth of major new releases is giving a lot of smaller indie films a better chance to find an audience. Plus, HBO Max just dropped the official trailer for Superintelligence, an action comedy starring Melissa McCarthy—and directed by her husband, Ben Falcone—that will drop Thanksgiving Weekend.
But the decision to skip the usual broad theatrical release in favor of the streaming platform was made last year—before the pandemic hit. That makes this film an intriguing potential harbinger of what the media ecosystem for films might look like in the future, especially for midbudget films. It was a big marquee acquisition for the fledgling HBO Max, which officially launched in May.
“Different doesn’t mean worse”
“We had a release date, a full marketing plan, and I had all my press lined up,” McCarthy told Deadline Hollywood at the time. “We were really ready to go. When the announcement came that HBO Max was really happening, Ben had this idea. And we thought, is this better? Different doesn’t mean worse, and how are we watching films ourselves? We still go to the theater, and we love going to the theater. I would cry if that ever went away. But we watch a lot of movies at home, and a lot of people do. This just seemed like an exciting new way to get it in front of a lot of people.”
It may also be a smart way to minimize the risk, given that McCarthy’s films tend to be uneven in terms of box-office returns. For every Spy or The Heat (one of my personal favorite McCarthy vehicles), there’s an outright bomb like The Happytime Murders. Falcone tacitly acknowledged as much to Deadline last year. “Honestly, you can release a mid-budget movie, and if we’d stayed in the theaters, we could have done incredibly well,” he said. “There still are those examples of movies like this one that do. But for this movie, at this time, we felt like it was the best way to go.”
McCarthy plays Carol Peters, the most average person on Earth: she’s single, unemployed, and has a celebrity crush on James Corden. When her TV, phone, microwave, and other electronic devices start talking to her, she initially thinks it’s a joke—or perhaps she’s just going mad. In fact, she has been selected for observation by the world’s first Super Intelligence (voiced by James Corden, of course), an AI who is pondering whether it should take over the world or allow humanity to continue to exist. The fate of the Earth rests on Carol’s average shoulders.
McCarthy wasn’t initially cast in the lead role, which writer Steve Mallory originally intended to be male, but she loved the script so much, “I pushed my way into the movie,” McCarthy told People last month. Thematically, the film is about “technology’s dominance over our lives, but also is a lovely reminder that people may be flawed, but they’re still worth saving.”
In addition to McCarthy and Corden, Bobby Cannavale plays her love interest George, Brian Tyree Henry plays her best friend Dennis, and Falcone appears in a smaller role as a government agent. The cast also includes Sam Richardson, Michael Beach, Usman Ally, Karan Soni (aka Dopinder in the Deadpool films), Jean Smart, and Damon Jones.
Will Falcone’s bet on moving to a streaming platform pay off? We’ll see. The trailer looks fun—although so did the trailer for The Happytime Murders—and it might prove to be appealing to families looking for some good PG fare Thanksgiving weekend.
Superintelligence debuts November 26, 2020 on HBO Max. HBO Max is also running a “20 Days of Kindness” campaign as part of the film’s marketing rollout, in which the streamer will donate $20,000 to a different good cause daily and encourage others to do the same. AT&T has reportedly already joined in with a $1 million contribution to Girls Who Code.
Listing image by YouTube/HBO Max